How To Attract The Best Staff And How To Differentiate Your Organisation From The Competition

Written by J. Crawley on Sunday, 09 October 2016

In previous keynotes we have established the ground rules for what motivates people to leave a company. I have given you a flavour of the expectations of 21st Century management consultants. The factors that enable you to retain good staff, lead naturally to the principles you need to have, to recruit good new staff.

So how do you actually recruit people? What is the process you go through?

Kenneth Clarke, not the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the one who did the wonderful TV programme Civilisation, concluded that the hallmark of a great civilisation is institionalised courtesy. That means organisation which has regard for the feelings of others.

The consultancy recruitment market place is always traumatic with M&A both amongst traditional players, and acquisition of new startups, particularly in areas such as Digital. Management consultants are on the move.

We are supposed to be expecting an economic downturn, but many of the major consultancy companies and a significant number of boutiques are still experiencing revenue growth rates of between 10% - 20%.

There may be a number of redundancy rounds currently going on, but this is more about reshaping practices than downsizing and there are still significant staff shortages in some growth sectors. Whilst we have seen constant shifts from candidate-driven to a client-driven marketplace, the way you recruit people is still as important. Additionally, whilst the recruitment pipelines may be slimmer, it is an ideal time for organisations to look at the process and redesign where necessary.

Those consultancy companies that are attracting and retaining staff are those that are progressive, responsive and dynamic, not only in the work that they do, but in the way that they recruit. But front line consultancy staff rarely have time to dedicate to a fast and accurate recruitment process.

I refer to my original point. concerning institutionalised courtesy. A business is much the same. Whether a candidate is successful or not, the recruitment process - how they are treated - will impact both on their views of the firm, and also the views of others. It does not take long for feedback to reach the wider market. If the process is poor, the firm could be disregarded by other potential employees.

Many people believe that the shorter the interview process the more chance of hiring the wanted employee. I don't believe this. For the past 18 months we have been asking all our candidates what they are looking for when selecting their next employer. Congenial work and money is top of the list but there are other factors.

  1. To feel valued throughout the recruitment process whether it leads to a successful appointment or not.
  2. Accurate information provided at all stages of the interview process on the company, the practice and the personalities.
  3. Specific interview arrangements, i.e. pre-planned time and place, assistance in travel arrangements.
  4. Fast and accurate feedback from all stages of the interview process
  5. The opportunity to meet peers in their specific practice area

Only a very small percentage of the candidates were concerned about the time the recruitment process took. The majority of these were currently unemployed or facing redundancy or uncertainty in their current position.

Whilst the aforementioned points may be perceived as 'nannying', the reality of the global market place in consultancy, is that it is a sellers market for individuals with the requisite skills - afterall the consultancy can only grow by expanding both its service lines and delivery capability. Good candidates have the luxury of picking their employer - especially if we are talking senior manager and above, and the individual brings clients and business. The recruitment process must be extremely professional.

So how is the recruitment process managed at the moment?

In some, Partners and Senior Management source their candidates through their own network of contacts and recruitment providers.

Job specifications are often given verbally to suppliers. Arrangements to meet candidates are agreed locally on an ad-hoc basis. The advantage of this method is that Partners and management form long-term trust relationships with their suppliers. It can make the process of identifying quality candidates accurate and fast.

However, there are also some significant disadvantages to this:

  1. There is no central store of information on the candidate, which can often lead to loss of detail, or partners at the 2nd round interview stage not having full information on the candidate before they meet.
  2. Specific dates are sometimes not set for telephone interviews which can leave candidates confused and unsure of their position in the process. This may cause them to pursue other opportunities.
  3. Partners and managers waste a great deal of time trying to track down colleagues and make interview arrangements.
  4. There are no standard terms and conditions for the practice with its suppliers. Each arrangement is on an individual basis which can lead to unexpected costs and discontinuity of the recruitment process.
  5. Candidates cannot be briefed on the full recruitment process, i.e. how many interviews will there be, where will these interviews be held, what the candidate needs to prepare for meetings. Also often no biographies are available to the candidates for the people they are meeting and there is no written information available on the specific practice area.
  6. In some firms there is very little formal testing of skills or psychometrics apart from the line managers' own impressions from the meetings.
  7. Often there is very little opportunity for candidates to meet peers within a practice area prior to accepting an offer.

So what's the solution to this? I suggest it is an efficient and co-ordinated recruitment system, centrally controlled, which does not place an administrative burden on the fee-earning staff.

The obvious answer is to hire a full-time recruitment manager. The larger firms have dedicated HR departments and dedicated recruitment teams, so this is not new. The advantage is that you have a function in place which ensures continuity of the process, a high quality feedback service to candidates, a focused approach to recruitment campaigns and greater access to the potential market place.

This is however a costly solution - because whilst you already pay agency fees for candidates, you need to add on the cost of the recruitment staff. In addition, growth is never constant. The significant cost of permanent employees dedicated to recruitment can rarely be justified in those times when you don't need new people.

There are however hybrids, where you have a 'mini rpo' solution, something that JCM is able to provide. You benefit from an extremely qualified, experienced on site consultant, but maybe only for 1 day a week for a couple of months.

Whichever direction you travel, make sure however that you retain the services of the most qualified individuals available. So many firms build recruitment teams from recruitment administrators who are then expected to act as business partners without the necessary skills and experience.

Good recruitment process, whilst essential, does not necessarily mean good recruitment practice when used alone.

The Importance of Process

We have established that we need to put in place a process, which ensures that all prospective candidates are handled courteously and professionally. After an internal consultation period, we feel that you should produce a tailored recruitment model, specific to your firm's needs. It should comprise:

  1. A standard interview model - who/what/where/why/when?
  2. A simple feedback reporting system
  3. Recommendations on the production of written information, when and where it should be made available, and to whom.
  4. Recommendations on staffing requirements for each stage of the process, who should be responsible for each aspect of the process.
  5. Recommendations on the most effective usage of outside suppliers to fulfil recruitment needs, standard terms and conditions, and achieving value for money without compromising quality.

Most recruitment practices follow the same basic principle. There are 4 main stages:

  1. Production of Material & Identification of Need
  2. Decision of recruitment methods
  3. Actual recruitment process
  4. Feedback evaluation and review

Stage One - Production of Recruitment Material

The first part of this is the Production of Job Descriptions and Person Specification

Whilst each hire is individual, many similar level candidates will often be hired in a year. In order to minimise repeated work and speed up the process, draft job descriptions and person specifications should be pre-written. This will mean that only a small amount of time, to update the basic specification, will be required in order to fit it to a particular role.

Job descriptions and Person Specifications should be standard, and contain similar base information in order that they are familiar to staff and managers who provide the core material for their detail.

They should contain as much information as possible, however as a minimum the following must be included: We have 6 items under job description and 4 under person specification:

Job Description Person Specification
Job Title Personal Attributes
Practice Description Qualifications
Line Responsibilities Specialist Knowledge Requirements
Client Responsibilities Mobility
Salary and Remuneration  
Location  

The second area to look at, is Recruitment Material

In order that candidates feel comfortable and informed throughout the process a presentation pack, which is given to the candidate when invited to the first interview, should be made available. This pack should vary in content for Practice and Level. The packs should be pre-prepared, and where possible personalised for the particular practice area and job specification. The best way to achieve this, is with an electronic brochure which contains standard company information, with tailored inserts containing relevant specific information. The following is a guideline for the minimum requirements:

The Standard Pack should contain

  1. Company Brochure
  2. Flow chart of the recruitment process
  3. Organisation Chart of the Company
  4. Press releases and General marketing
  5. Compensation & Benefits arrangements
  6. Contact details for Recruiters

We would then provide additions for Graduate / MBA Packs

  1. Outline of the specific practice area applicable
  2. Summaries and case studies from practice area
  3. Job description for associate / relevant position
  4. Full Job Description and Person Specification

Additions For Junior Recruitment Pack

  1. Outline of the specific practice area applicable
  2. Summaries and case studies from practice area
  3. Brief job descriptions for each level of seniority showing progressive ranks.
  4. Full Job Description and Person Specification

Additions for Middle Management Recruitment Pack

  1. Outline of the specific practice area applicable
  2. Summaries and case studies from practice area
  3. Named Organisation Chart of the Practice
  4. Brief job descriptions for each level of seniority showing progressive ranks.
  5. Full Job Description and Person Specification

And finally the Partner Level Recruitment Pack

  1. Summary of organisational accounts
  2. Outline of the specific practice area applicable
  3. Summaries and case studies from practice area
  4. Brief job descriptions for each level of seniority showing progressive ranks.
  5. Named Organisation Chart of the Practice
  6. Partner Compensation & Benefits arrangements
  7. Full Job Description and Person Specification

The third area you should look at is Company Presentations to prospective employees

Pre-written presentations on the company, the individual practice areas and the roles within the company, including relevant case studies, should be prepared and developed into power-point presentations. These can be used at recruitment days, fairs and graduate introductions to inform potential recruits about the business. Hard copies of these presentations should be produced to provide a lasting reminder to the delegates of the company.

In the age of increasing information accessibility through the internet, companies should ensure that their website contains identical material to that handed out to prospective employees, and in most cases, an online recruitment section.

So that covers your preparations, let's take a look now at, how we turn theory into reality

Recruitment Methods

There are several methods of recruitment, utilising different mediums some of which are more suited to a particular set of requirements than others. The following slides provide a brief summary of the main methods in use.

Head Hunting or Executive Search to give it its respectable title

Head-hunting is the most accurate way to identify suitable candidates for an organisation. This does not however mean it is a suitable solution for all situations. Head Hunting is time consuming but can produce optimum results against a specific brief. It is certainly not always the most cost effective solution for junior to middle management personnel in the consultancy market place. We would recommend it only for individual senior appointments that cannot be sourced elsewhere, generally those with packages of £70,000 plus and for highly sensitive positions. Whether this activity is done internally, or externally, remember that sourcing / identifying candidates is only 30% of the process. Many firms rely on web resources such as 'linked-in', which is indeed a powerful tool for identifying and approaching candidates, however last time I checked, it was pretty bad and keeping candidates motivated throughout a six-month recruitment process and its terrible at negotiations. You cannot replace an experienced talent consultant with a database however strong its CRM functions are.

Advertised Selection Campaigns

Consultancy companies' greatest problem in times of growth is often the number of quality candidates that are physically coming through the door. Many smaller firms have the added problem that they do not currently command a high profile amongst candidates in the market place. Most of the growing consultancy companies use some sort of advertising to boost their candidate throughput. Whilst adverts can pull up huge numbers of inappropriate candidates, generally they result in one or two placements. This number of responses only becomes a factor when you do not have the back office machinery in place to handle the process. By allowing for an element of advertising you achieve three things. Firstly, a raising of the company's profile amongst candidates and potential clients. Secondly, a greater throughput of quality people. Thirdly, a potential cost saving on agency and outside supplier's fees, if you run the process in-house. Selection is a very powerful tool when used well.

Contingency Recruitment

No one recruitment company can claim to have total coverage of the market place in terms of the available candidates, and so in order to secure your market share of CV's, you need to cast a wide net over as many of the Agencies and Search firms as practicable. Limiting yourself by to too small a preferred supplier list can cut a huge number of smaller independent firms out of the supply chain. As a result, you can potentially miss out on a large number of candidates. Most consultancy companies find themselves overwhelmed by the number of CVs they receive from agencies, and many of these are little more than rebadged linked in profiles sent out on mailshots. This can be avoided by a slick and effective process, in which outside suppliers only supply to requests. The number of agencies receiving those requests can be unlimited.

Graduate / MBA Milkround

Many companies make the mistake of treating this sort of recruitment as identical to normal recruitment. Graduates at the top universities and business schools have a wealth of information supplied to them. They can pick and choose their next company. In order to address this area, the consultancy must have a unique offering in the way it attracts graduates and MBA students. The first approach must be to target the University staff, add value to their offerings by making personnel available for talks and lectures, sponsor events and provide resources. The second approach must be direct to the students. By providing literature initially, followed up by visits by both Senior & Junior consultancy personnel with similar backgrounds on special recruitment days. Also by providing graduate placement schemes for vacation periods, sponsorship of studies, 'fun-days' and in addition provide opportunities for MBA students to work on projects alongside consultant teams.

Out of these main recruitment methods, it should be noted that normally the only method that will provide you with candidates who are not currently seeking new employment is Head-hunting.

Feedback / Evaluation / Review

The best recruitment practices are flexible. They can be improved. To this end, it is important that all participants in the recruitment process have the opportunity to make their views known, not just immediately, but after due consideration. The results of this should then be used to make appropriate alterations to the process.

In summary, you can clearly differentiate your firm from the competition and make it more attractive to potential employees, by making your presence in the market felt. You should make your process as slick and professional as any process you design for a client.

JCM are able to design a bespoke recruitment process tailored to both your current and future needs, 'onsite' mini RPO for specific talent challenges, and traditional executive search services. Contact us for more details and a discussion.